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Pras Shifts Haitian and Documentary Paradigm with ‘Sweet Micky for President’ [Review]

by Mellissa Thomas

 

"Sweet Micky for President" documentary poster - 2015 Miami International Film Festival

Sweet Micky for President
Story by Pras Michel (Pras)
Directed by Ben Patterson
Produced by Prasperity Productions
in association with Onslot Films and RYOT Films

 

 

The massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti forever changed the nation, killing thousands and displacing millions; and the world outpoured over $9 billion in aid. However, even after ten months, the country’s condition appeared as if fate had simply shrugged its shoulders. Pras Michel, one-third of rap trio The Fugees and second-generation Haitian, wanted to do something. “The one thing I wasn’t going to do was make a song,” Pras remarked on Friday during a behind the scenes interview with FNN at the 2015 Miami International Film Festival before its premiere that night. He instead approached filmmaker Ben Patterson to create a video marketing Haiti’s beautiful landscape and vibrant people to show his homeland in a new light.

However, things changed when Pras approached Haiti’s controversial music icon Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly and proposed that he run for president.

 

Behold, a Documentary

Patterson loyally kept the camera rolling from the moment Pras decided to take action to the end of the monumental election, mixing in healthy portions of Haiti’s tumultuous and up to now barely known history—which the audience is hit with at the movie’s start—and breathtaking landscape images with Pras and Martelly’s suspenseful political campaign for the presidency, which includes their fateful collision with Pras’ band mate and longtime friend Wyclef Jean, who was simultaneously running for president with millions of his own campaign capital behind him.

Thanks to producer Karyn Rachtman and Patterson, Slamdance Jury Prize and Audience Prize Winner Sweet Micky for President watches like a political drama—not just a traditional “talking head” documentary, but an engrossing story, plot and all, with special appearances by Wyclef Jean, Sean Penn, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Ben Stiller. Miami New Times even said, “Sweet Micky for President may be among the greatest documentaries of all time.”

Viewers experience awe, apprehension, and far more laughter than they would expect from a political story, primarily because of political neophytes Pras and Martelly, who speak unsparingly when they criticize Haiti’s political flaws or their detractors. Viewers get a firsthand look at the inner workings of Haiti’s political system, and like the U.S., the voting system can be rigged in certain candidates’ favor, garnering outrage from the citizens.

Even Pras was infuriated. “If Martelly don’t win, the people will burn the whole country down,” he said emphatically in the documentary. While his campaign team reprimanded him for saying that, recommending that he instead say, “the people will protest,” he clarified a few moments later in the movie, “When people in Haiti protest, they burn and destroy things… They don’t have [much], except their vote, and when it’s not respected, they [lash out].”

Like any well-written fictional feature, Patterson skillfully narrows his protagonist’s vignette, getting the viewer emotionally invested in Martelly, who starts out looking outrageous and highly unlikely in his “Sweet Micky” antics, and in Haiti as a whole. “Our media gives us a one-sided view of Haiti,” Patterson told FNN, “and Pras wanted to change that.”

In typical Hero’s Journey fare, the movie’s heroes are squeezed to the point of hopelessness at the peak, creating a thrill that seems perfectly contrived, but is very real. Furthermore, like a fictional feature, viewers even enjoy the treat of subtext, getting to watch Pras and Wyclef’s tensions run their course onscreen during the campaign, which is pivotal to the heroes’ fate.

 

Breaking Barriers and Widening the Lens

Pras is aiming at Haiti’s young and the Haitian diaspora. “Sixty-five percent of the Haitian population is twenty-five and under,” Pras noted during Friday’s interview, “so I’m trying to reach them.” His primary tactic in garnering support for Martelly was through overseas campaigning—across the U.S. and Canada. “These are the people who will call back home and tell their mothers, their fathers…to vote for Martelly,” Pras explained in the movie. However, he also wants the documentary to educate his people in the diaspora about their homeland and its history, which is essential for those of Haitian descent who have never been there.

In the end, the 2015 Miami International Film Festival audience, which consisted primarily of the Haitian diaspora, came away wowed. “I love it,” Haiti’s Ambassador-at-Large Dr. Rudolph Moise told FNN during the premiere. “It’s a very inspiring movie about Haiti; I’m very excited about it.”

With good reason. There is no story more compelling to the human spirit than that of a misfit rising to the occasion, even reluctantly, of tackling a challenge thrice his size, no matter the consequences that follow. Because of Pras and Martelly, the impetus Sweet Micky for President presents is palpable enough to make even fate regret its nonchalance, and make the entire world set its eyes on the resilient nation of Haiti once more.

I give this film 4 stars out of five. When this film is released in theaters and on DVD, no human being can afford to miss it.

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